So its now time for me to start writing another one of my ‘unbiased’ points of view on a certain car or cars. The past six months have been pretty good to me in terms of motoring as I started to write for myautoblog.org and then for www.carthrottle.com. I have to thank a very old pal of mine, Chan Lee Meng of uglychickens.blogspot.com who pointed me to the direction where I should be paid for what I write as he thinks that some of my articles are pretty decent. I suppose he was right, and I therefore owe him one. Big time.
Now writing for a wider audience is a good thing and also a bad thing. The good thing is that I still speak my mind on stuff on these sites, the bad thing is that there is now a wider audience that disagrees with what I say. Of course, there are those who agree with me too. But the point I am making here is that, I do like the attention, and criticism does not hurt me. Maybe I am thick skinned. And this is a good thing isn’t it?
Anyway, I am now supposed to substantiate my remark that the Proton Persona is the best affordable 4 door sedan you can buy in Malaysia today. I should, as it really is a decent car to buy.
So we have the Proton Persona, it is a 4 door version of the Proton Gen2. It has a 110bhp CAMPRO engine with a variable inlet manifold (which Proton calls IAFM) to get rid of the infamous torque dip, no, not infamous. That is what politically correct journalists who get their cars from Proton and the free food and drives. I had to basically be nice to my friend’s cousin to take this latest facelifted Persona SE 1.6 Automatic for a drive.
I was so ‘nice’ that when I kept criticizing the car he still agreed with me. He met my friend, his cousin, and I in Shah Alam while we were spare parts hunting for the twenty year old Mercedes 200E W124 (pic above) I mentioned in this previous article. And since the Persona was newly facelifted (and only two weeks old) I asked to drive it around Shah Alam and then back to his apartment somewhere near Mont Kiara. So it was a pretty long drive of Shah Alam back roads, some traffic, the NKVE, and onwards to Mont Kiara via SPRINT highway and then towards Sri Hartamas. All this with the 200E as company.
Now where was I? Yes, the CAMPRO torque dip. It is not infamous, it is horrendous, terrible, crap, rubbish and life threatening due to the inability to overtake properly. Another of my friend hated this torque dip in his mother in law’s Gen2 so much he rejoiced when she wanted to get rid of it. In manual mode this torque dip is slightly lessened by the part where you can choose the gears yourself. In the automatic pre-IAFM Gen2 it was so bad that when you stepped on the throttle nothing happened. It would pick up speed then not pick up speed and then when the engine is screaming at 6,000rpm it tries to go somewhere but by then you’re already cursing and swearing.
So this new Persona is nothing like that. It has a really sensitive 4 speed auto box that seems to downshift almost all the time. Give it a slight gradient it will downshift if you’re cruising at 80km/h. It is very responsive. Some will say that this is too responsive and it will make the Persona uneconomical. Hello, it’s a 1.6. it already is decently economical. If you want total fuel savings buy a Perodua Viva. Live a little, let the autobox downshift and upshift as it likes. I mean, you want perky car instead of a dim witted one right?
Anyway, the Persona’s autobox works well for the car. Coupled with the IAFM equipped 1.6 liter engine the power felt alright for a car this size and weight. I liked its sporty nature and only in really sharp bends the auto box will hesitate a little. But like the little Mazda 2 Sedan I tried recently, you can shift manually to try lessen this problem. And the reason why I brought up the Mazda 2 is that this top of the line Persona feels a little like the Mazda when it comes to driving dynamics but it is at least RM15k cheaper than the base Mazda 2.
It has that same light footed feeling and that same eagerness to change direction that the Mazda has and I liked it. The thing that differs from the Mazda is that the Mazda feels like it has more cornering grip and less roll. The Persona rolls a bit, but it is all predictable and the Persona feels very well sorted out.
On the NKVE slip road towards the Damansara Toll Booth from Shah Alam it would hold the line nicely while cornering at about 100km/h even with factory fitted 195/60/15 tires (it would be fabulous with upsized rims and tires). It also reacts nicely to high speed lane changes. No drama whatsoever. My friend who was following in his Mercedes Benz 200E said the car looked good while cornering and he had trouble keeping up with the Persona through that sweeping corner. Then again, you can’t blame him as it is a twenty year old car.
Refinement at 140km/h seems pretty good with not much wind noise too (the Mazda 2 had as much engine noise as well as wind noise – so the Persona is better here). The only drawback is the throaty induction roar that seems ever present at over 4,000rpm. But that also seems to be a minor irritant as it is the by product of enthusiastic driving. Although some might say that this Persona isn’t a performance car, hence the gearbox should not be so gear change happy or the engine that rorty. But that is their opinion. If a car can be driven fast and be enjoyed for its handling, then you should categorize it as something else. So this Persona may be slightly noisy and it may be slightly uneconomical. But if you want a good drive, ignore this two faults.
The next thing I want to add on why the Persona SE (on fact the more basic and cheaper models) is a pretty good driver’s car is that it costs five hundred Ringgit short of RM60k. No other car comes close as giving you a car that is as what I said above. The Proton Saga? Beam Axle, flat seats and that dumpy looking body. I want a car that handles and it also proportioned. The Perodua Myvi? Well, it has a tall hatchback body, beam axle and everything that’s tuned for comfort and for a good city drive, not performance. The Toyota Vios? It costs RM73k for a Vios J and it is a Toyota. When has a bread and butter Toyota ever been sporty? The new Kia Forte? A very good car that handles but, to get the same specs it costs RM75k. So it’s not really affordable to those who earn less. The Proton Waja? Please leave this shopping trolley for the Malaysian Police to use. It has a seat which seems to have support in all the wrong places, it has a driving position that is slightly offset to one side, it has a steering wheel that is a little too fat in all the wrong places and it is a shopping trolley. Why would you want to drive that?
So now we come to the most glaring fault in the Persona. The only fault that for me is as glaring as a ridiculously overpriced One Hundred and Fifteen Thousand Ringgit Proton Satria Neo is the steering position of the Persona, and therefore the Gen2 and of course, the Satria Neo.
We usually have an adjustable in most cars, most for rake and some also for reach. The Persona has one that adjusts for rake, or up and down or high and low. I like the sit up straight race car style driving position and I did just that with the Persona. I got the seat in the right position and angle. I reached for the steering wheel and found out it was low or if I wanted to adjust, lower till it hit my thighs. At its highest position, I had two inches of clearance and if I wanted a decent steering position, I would have to drive the Persona at the ten minutes to one (still too low) position, or thereabouts. In any other car, it would be low to high, but not here. It could be that the seat (which has good side support by the way) is set too high, but I have quite a good pedal and leg alignment so the main fault lies in the steering mount. The engineers who engineered this must have been a hobbit that has a grudge against all people taller than 5feet 7inches.
So there you have it. The biggest flaw to this handling package. I have to add that after a while it became slightly bearable as I kept using that slightly different steering grip. Then when you notice little things like a normal old school hydraulic steering rack instead of the electrically assisted ones that manufacturers like to use in order to gain 3% fuel economy over feel, the all round disc brakes with ABS (spongy due to the ABS – a non ABS Gen2 I tried seems better) which most cars in its price range do not have and that it has a full multi-link rear suspension unlike the beam axle suspension that other cars in its price range have, you’ve got a winner here folks. I also have to mention that the whole car, while the plastic is all hard, nothing fell off and everything felt well screwed together. It looks like it will be hard wearing and will last awhile. It isn’t even ugly, so its a good thing here too.
That advertisement from Proton showing that pregnant lady avoiding deers, cutting it real close to the side railing and other stunts seem pretty feasible in this car. Not to mention the tuning potential. Give it lower aftermarket seats, a rally style dish steering wheel, wider tires and bigger rims (17”), and a set of coil overs, it would be a good drive. I’d try to stay away from an open pod air filter though, unless you don’t care about the induction noise.
There. This is why I said earlier that the Proton Persona SE is the best handling affordable 4 door sedan in Malaysia. But while it is so good I still want to buy that old 200E over this. Ah, the irony.
Find out the reason why the old car wins this comparo when I get to part 2. The question now is…… when will I get to writing part 2?
Facelifted Proton Persona SE 1.6 automatic
Likes: good chassis balance, over responsive gearbox (hey, this isn’t about fuel economy), price
Dislikes: low steering position (if you are short or you like go-karting, this is fine), spongy brakes